TORONTO — Exposing a toddler to just a half hour of screen time on a smartphone, tablet, or gaming device may lead to troubles with the child’s speech development in the future, a new study finds.
Researchers looked at data from TARGet Kids!, a research project in Toronto, which included 894 children who were between the ages of six months and two years.
At their 18-month checkup, 20 percent of the children used a handheld device for an average of 28 minutes a day, according to the children’s parents.
Using a diagnostic, the researchers were able to determine that use of a handheld screen was related to an elevated risk of speech delay. In fact, for each 30-minute increase in handheld screen time, researchers found the risk of expressive speech delay increased by 49 percent.
The relation between screen time and communication delays, however, was confined to speech— i.e., other forms of communication, such as social interactions, body language, and gestures did not demonstrate a similar effect.
“This is the first study to report an association between handheld screen time and increased risk of expressive language delay,” said Dr. Catherine Birken, the study’s lead researcher, in an American Academy of Pediatrics press release.
The study’s results help support a recent recommendation by the academy, which warned against children under 18 months engaging with any sort of screen-based media.
Further research, Birken suggests, could look into the type of media that young children are consuming, so that researchers can explore the causal factors between screen time and speech delay.
The effects of screen time in one’s infancy on long-term development is another avenue that could be examined.
The study’s findings were presented at the 2017 Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting.